Leeds United Stories, Vol. 1

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the square ball week: dead running

the square ball week: dead running


An imaginary footballer and mystifying Instagram photos. That’s definitely what Leeds United needed out of transfer deadline day. Amadou Haidara, you were no Andrea Tabanelli.

There was a real footballer too, Eunan O’Kane, a midfielder, to go along with the other midfielders. There’s an argument that well run clubs shouldn’t do business on deadline anyway, that they should have their squads decided and in place before that date comes around. But that Leeds were trying their hardest to do business on deadline day, and failed, shows again that what applies to well run football clubs doesn’t apply to Leeds.

Not producing a viable striker from anywhere in the wide world of football was one failure, and perhaps demonstrates that Leeds United’s scouting capabilities are still not what they ought to be. “Jesus Christ, Garry Monk doesn’t have a clue what to do when it comes to the transfer market, does he?” was the response on a Swansea message board when we picked up Pablo Hernandez; “It’s seriously frightening that a professional football manager, especially one who’s managed in the top two divisions of English football like he has, can be so utterly bereft of ideas when it comes to transfers.” Judging by this week, after ringing through all current and past Swansea strikers — “Hi, Mrs Toshack? Is John in?” — Garry and Pep’s contacts book must have looked pretty thin.

Leeds still had their other ace recruitment strategy to fall back on: trying to sign players who Massimo Cellino had seen having a good game against us. Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu was rumoured to be following the Liam Cooper route to Leeds, although the deadline day pursuit wouldn’t have allowed Leeds time to tick off the official ‘We Didn’t Want Him Anyway’ statement on the website, before the shamefaced backtrack. There weren’t ever similar rumours about Oliver Burke, despite his game-winning performance about us for Forest, but his £13m transfer to the realm of fizzy evil will have stopped any of that.

Beyond that, nobody in the corridors and halls of Elland Road or Thorp Arch could come up with the name of a player that could sign for and improve Leeds United, a team that lies 21st in the second division. That doesn’t suggest that there aren’t the right players out there for Leeds; it suggests that Leeds don’t know where to look or how to get them. Brian McDermott used to shake his head at the lack of scouting infrastructure at Leeds; Cellino has added ‘Recruitment’ to Andrea ‘furniture salesman’ Lapore’s miscellaneous list of duties, but beyond that?

Perhaps if Cellino checked his desk drawers he might find one of Steve Evans’ old transfer wishlists (although Evans claims we’ve been following that all summer anyway), or one of Neil Redfearn’s, or Darko Milanic’s (if he ever got as far as writing one). What he will see, if he lifts his head from its resting place on his desk and gazes around him, is the legacy that all those watermelons, and advisors, and his own whims, have left him; and in his anguish we will see that Leeds’ most recent transfer deadline day was dictated by its failure to plan through not only this transfer window, but transfer windows past.

Because Toumani Diagouraga is still a Leeds United player, even though Leeds have since signed Grimes, O’Kane and Bridcutt for his position, where there already was Murphy and Mowatt, and where Phillips and Vieira have risen in prominence and capability. Thank goodness, in that case, that we sold Lewis Cook.

Diagouraga was Evans’ player, like Murphy was Brian McDermott’s; Grimes is Monk’s, while O’Kane seems to have been available, so we got him. Meanwhile Cook, Mowatt, Phillips and Vieira were all here and of one age or another, and a Championship side that had to start again tomorrow would be happy to be picking from just that four for its central midfield positions.

This might look like an embarrassment of riches, as might four decent first team goalkeepers, with not much to choose between them. But really it’s just embarrassing, especially as, with Sol Bamba now gone, Leeds United only own one categorical central defender beyond the end of this season (Giuseppe Bellusci is categorically not worth including) and three central strikers. And if I called out Bellusci I have to emphasise that one of those strikers is Souleymane Doukara.

The squad looks better in some ways on paper than it did last season; Antonsson is good so far, Bartley is good so far, Ayling is decent (but no Byram); Roofe, Sacko and Hernandez could all come great. But its imbalance is a paper trail of the last few years of, not so much mismanagement, or of too much management, but of too many managements having too much influence for not long enough to count, but long enough for Leeds to count the cost of the repercussions.

Ideas don’t have long enough to develop into results and strategy is non-existent. Head coaches are wined and dined by Cellino, but mostly wined; tactical excitement is generated by salt and pepper pots, and a project to build a team and a way of playing begins. And then it grinds to a halt and another begins in its place, but with all the parts of the last project left over.

The term ‘deadwood’ has been connected to Leeds United for years now; the club always seems to be that one clearout away from success. And yet it’s never the deadwood that goes; Lewis Cook was sold this summer, and Toumani Diagouraga kept, and that’s Leeds United’s transfer policy in a nutshell.

Perhaps Monk really does need a director of football to work with him, not to help him build a side, but to help him get rid of the remnants of the unfinished sides cluttering up the place. Pest control, but for those hard to shift Marco Silvestris and Luke Murphys infesting the carpets.

But then Garry Monk is not entirely in the clear. With O’Kane and Bridcutt in the squad, and Vieira and Phillips in the side, what is Matt Grimes for? How do Dallas, Sacko, Hernandez and Roofe fit in two wing positions, in a team where Mowatt plays wide as much as anybody?

I wrote after the Forest defeat that Monk hasn’t made it clear yet whether he’s working to a well thought-out strategy at Leeds, or if the QPR defeat was the catalyst for an urgent, drastic rethink. I hoped that the last few days of the transfer window would shed some light, but instead it only added to the shedload of midfielders. And it underlined what we already knew, but we always hope is changing; that Leeds United is not a very well run football club.


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